Expectations when Eating Out with Allergies

Waitress

When talking to other people about my allergies, a common topic that comes up is how hard it must be to eat out at restaurants.  For the most part, however, I have had nothing but positive experiences when it comes to eating out. I will admit that there have been some less than positive incidents, for example where it was not detected that the menu item I ordered contained food allergens. And only once did a restaurant refuse to serve me because of my allergies. While these are not positive events, they for the most part are preventable by having my own routine for how I inform servers about my allergies along with the responsibility I expect to see from the restaurant for serving someone with allergies.

The expectations I have when eating at a restaurant include always making sure I get confirmation that the chef is going to be informed about my allergies and that whatever I ordered is going to be prepared in an area where no cross-contamination will occur.  When I order food, I also expect waiters or waitresses to be investigative to ensure that the meal I am ordering is actually free of any possible allergens. One of the incidents where I had an allergic reaction in a restaurant occurred because the waitress misread the ingredient label for a veggie burger, which actually contained egg.  Therefore, I always prefer when a restaurant has a binder that contains a list of what ingredients are in what menu items. Since this is not always possible at every restaurant, I also find that it is a good sign when a waiter/waitress comes back to the table to verify ingredients with me— as this signals they actually have been looking into the food I have ordered.

Overall it is my hope that restaurants will be very accommodating when serving someone with allergies since they want to encourage business but also don’t want to trigger an allergic reaction in one of their patrons.  The incident where a restaurant refused to serve me occurred at a restaurant in Toronto. This restaurant had all of their food shipped in from an outside supplier and could not verify all the ingredients in their food and then could not guarantee any food items were definitely allergen free.  This was obviously a frustrating incident. But it was the right call since no food item could fully assured to be safe. Some incidents where restaurants get ‘brownie’ points for their service in regards to managing food allergies include when the chef comes out and personally talks to me about menu options and what is safe for me.

This exceeds my expectations for eating out and completely reassures me that my meal will be safe. Furthermore, the more flexible a restaurant is with altering their menu options to make safe meal choices also puts a restaurant in my good books.  This gesture is obviously much more work for a restaurant kitchen but is a testament to their commitment to providing an allergy- safe restaurant experience for their guests. It is a shared partnership between myself and the restaurant I eat out at to ensure that the food I eat is allergy friendly. For the most part, however, I must commend restaurants for the steps they take to make my experiences eating out safe and enjoyable. What have your experiences been like eating out at restaurants with allergies?

Caitlyn P. 

The Odd, The Strange, And The Weird

Full length of young men and woman holding a billboard

We’ve all had strange or odd questions asked of us. But something about having a food allergy brings out the truly odd, strange, and downright weird questions from people. Mind you, I’ve never shied away from helping people around me or those who inquire to understand food allergies better. In fact, I applaud most for taking time and asking a question so they can have a better understanding of the severity of living with a food allergy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get some really weird questions. Over the years, I’ve heard three main questions asked again and again and, each time, it still strikes me as very, very, odd.

Here are the three strangest questions I’ve been asked and the responses I’ve crafted over the years:

  • Are they Contagious?

This one is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve been asked this question since I entered Kindergarten. At first, this question used to hurt my feelings. It almost made me feel like I shouldn’t be around others. It’s taken me awhile to overcome this stigma and come up with a response that is isn’t spiteful but informative.

Response: No, of course not. A food allergy is a bad reaction to certain foods your body rejects. It is not like a cold that can be caught by having contact with someone. My food allergy affects only me; but you can help keep me safe by not eating or bringing my allergens around me.

  • I can’t see it?

Another favorite… Just because someone can’t see an aliment or sickness, it does not mean that it does not exist. I, much like many others, have been pestered about the realness of my food allergies since I was old enough to explain them. Instead of getting angry I’ve found that the best way explain food allergies is to be understanding and helpful.

Response: Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Food allergies are a very serious matter and, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a big deal. If I were to come into contact with my allergen then it will become very visually apparent and we don’t want that do we? By me staying away from my allergen, I am able to keep it under control and avoid having a reaction.

  • Can you eat this? How about this? Or that?

The endless stream of foods being paraded in front of you each accompanied with its own “Can you eat this?” There’s no easy way to deal with this and it’s easy to get frustrated or hurt. A response for this can be tactful and informative but mostly I choose to be direct.

Response: I’m not sure. I’d have to know more about its production and ingredients. I’ll let you know what I can eat, don’t worry.

We have to remember that, if people are inquiring about our food allergies, they care and want to know more and we can help them better understand. Having some answers to common questions or extremely odd questions in your back pocket can help you better cope with any situation and help them learn a little more about a serious subject.

I’m curious to hear your odd questions about food allergies! So please feel free to share.

Arianne K.

Cruising with allergies

Woman in Pool

Going on vacation should be a relaxing experience. But having allergies can sometimes make it stressful. This is particularly true if you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language because it becomes more difficult to get information about your food. An alternative to a traditional vacation is going on a cruise. This can make travelling with allergies a lot more comfortable.

If you decide to cruise with an American company, you can be assured that all the staff members on the ship speak English. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they know all about allergies. But it does make it easier to communicate with them. It’s really important to be precise when talking about food allergies to staff whose first language isn’t English. For example, a staff member might know you’re allergic to nuts, but not realize that almonds are nuts.  They also might not know the distinction between seafood and fish. It’s best to keep things simple and clear so that there are no misunderstandings or confusion.

When you’re booking your cruise, there’s usually a section where you can write any dietary restrictions so that the staff is informed before you get on the ship. Since dinner is usually served in a dining room with a host and a waiter for your table, they will already know about your allergies and are prepared. On some ships, there’s even a special section of the kitchen reserved for making meals for allergic guests. Sometimes you can even speak to the head chef who will sit down with you and pick out safe foods for the duration of your cruise. This doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. So it’s important to always double-check your food.

On many cruises, you have the option of a sit-down meal or a buffet. Buffets can be tricky because, when guests serve themselves, they can use the same tongs for different foods and cross-contaminate them. You can avoid some of this by being the first one in line. But that might mean waking up very early for breakfast. If you feel like sleeping in, there are usually packaged foods like mini boxes of cereal or yogurt cups that have ingredients listed on them. These are great to take with you off the ship when you explore the city and can save you if you end up at a local restaurant that you don’t feel safe eating at.

Overall, cruising is a great experience and makes for a fun vacation. Although you may feel safe with a well-informed staff that understands your allergies, it’s important to always double-check your food. There are hundreds of guests on a ship and the wait staff tends to be overworked. So don’t feel bad about reminding the waiter a hundred times about your allergies. If anything should happen to you, there’s always a doctor on board and, if they can’t handle the situation, they can send a helicopter to take you to a hospital that’s better equipped.

Talia A. 

Five Allergy-Friendly Date Night Ideas

young couple having fun in the kitchen

When it comes to planning a date night, ideas have a tendency to cloud my brain. I’ve thought of so many unique date night activities at random times but when asked, “what do you want to do?” flat out by a girl, my brain often likes to jumble them all up at once. Coffee or beer is an easy option. Flying a kite might be fun. Going to see a movie is always a good move. Food is an easy option too. But what about my food allergies? Being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to keep food allergy-friendly date night ideas in my back pocket or I risk setting myself (and my date) up for a night of no activities. For a food and drink junkie like me, it’s hard to envision a date night that doesn’t involve food in one way or another. So here’s a countdown of my five favourite allergy-friendly date nights (or days) and how I planned them to help you out if you ever get stuck. Keep in mind that a couple of these dates haven’t actually happened yet. But my blueprint plan is still all laid-out and waiting for that special someone.

  • Day trip to Toronto Island (or the beach or a nice big park). For this one, try to go somewhere that is spacious and beautiful with lots of open space. I find that fresh air on a date helps wash away any stress I may have and really keeps me happy. When I went to Toronto Island, I packed my own picnic lunch in a backpack. Food was never discussed with my date since I love giving surprises and the picnic lunch was the main surprise. By packing my own food, I had full control of what foods I would eat and what foods my date would eat. I asked her ahead of time what kinds of food she liked so she wouldn’t be disappointed by my surprise. Then I made sure I prepared some of those foods with little tweaks to ensure that they were allergen-free. I also clearly explained to my date the severity of my allergy and how to properly administer my auto-injector before date night. The important word there is before date night. Introducing my food allergy early is something I try to do as I find it keeps things more comfortable for both of us on date night. The last thing I did while planning this particular date was visit the area to make sure that there were no surprises (like a peanut café or a beach full of nut shells). If there are ever surprises, I would have to re-adjust my plans and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
  • Take a pottery class together. This is literally on my bucket list of dates-to-do. Taking a class like this is great because you get the chance to talk but you also work on something together that you can take home as a memory. Plus it just looks fun. The other bonus? Pottery class doesn’t have much risk for food allergy reactions. That being said, if you choose to do this, make sure you call the pottery people ahead of time to get a rundown of the process. Ask questions like, does everyone wash their hands before handling the clay? Do you have a vending machine on site? Think about any risks you can think of and ask if they may be present. Then just plan ahead and have some fun!
  • Homemade cooking/baking. For this one, the ball was completely in my court for planning. First, I brainstormed ideas about what my date and I wanted to make (oreo chocolate cheesecake brownies, of course!). Next, I looked up recipes. At this stage, I try to find allergy-friendly recipes but they don’t have to be. When I stumble upon a recipe that sounds undeniably delicious but contains my allergen, I immediately look up alternatives on the internet (Google is a huge help). Next, I went to the grocery store and picked up all the necessary ingredients and read each ingredient list carefully to ensure that nothing even “may contained” my allergen. With these steps meticulously complete, I was able to relax on date night and the final product was delicious!
  • Attend a baseball game (or other sporting event). This one was tricky since peanuts are everywhere at the ball park (or any sporting event for that matter). To plan, I called the venue ahead of time to ask if they had any allergy-safe sections for that match-up. Sometimes a venue will host a game where an entire section is peanut/nut free in the stands. So I try to keep my eyes out for those and plan my date night around them. When they told me they didn’t, I went to plan B: caution. I packed two auto-injectors, just in case. I made sure both my date and I had a hearty allergen-free meal before the game so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy food at the game. This was a relief for both my wallet and me. That being said, we were both snackers at events like this so we snuck in a pack of candy I knew was safe. When we decided to snack, we both washed our hands at the washroom and made sure not to touch anything before eating the candy. As for drinks, we stuck with bottled water! Simple planning for a great date.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon. This one will likely never ever happen but I can dream. Planning a movie date night is simple and can be really fun. Put a bunch of movie names in a hat, then pull one out and watch it. I like to add in silly movies that I’ve never heard of because it adds to the fun of pulling one out of the hat. To make it more engaging, make it a themed movie hat night and only add movie titles into the hat that fit the theme (for example, Leslie Neilson night). I asked my date to bring the hat and volunteered to think of snack ideas. Again, this kept me in control of what we both ate, just in case my date let my allergy slip her mind. By this point in our relationship, she was already quite familiar with my allergy but it never hurts to remind them not to eat your allergen within 24-48 hours of seeing you. Then just kick back, maybe cuddle, and enjoy the movie!

Sometimes date night is extravagant and other times it’s really simple. Just remember to plan ahead, always bring your auto-injector, and enjoy the little moments. Happy date night!

Dylan B.

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

Allergies and Brunch

breakfast picture

Sunday brunch has become a quintessential tradition for many families across Canada. Aside from providing a means of reconnecting with family and friends, brunch is usually a meal arranged at external venues and restaurants. Living with allergies usually limits the options you have when it comes to eating-out. One of the biggest problems with buffets, or meals that are prepared by someone other than yourself or your immediate family, is the risk of cross-contamination that arises when multiple different dishes are prepared at once. Here are some tips that you can follow:

  1. What to eat?

If you decide to eat-out, always do your homework. ALWAYS!  What I mean by that is be aware of where you are eating and how your food is being prepared. If the brunch is at an external venue or restaurant, call the venue a day or two in advance to see if the restaurant has an allergy policy in place. That way you will know whether or not the establishment is allergen friendly and what specific foods you should stay away from. If brunch is being served at a relative’s house, follow the same procedure – make sure you always ask and remind your relatives (if they already don’t know) about how severe your allergy is and about the risks of cross-contamination. Being at a relative’s house can actually work in your favour. You can ask to see the ingredients used and how the food was prepared. You have more control over the situation. In any event, opt to eat foods that are “simple” (no creams or fancy sauces). Typically, the simpler the food is the less ingredients you have to worry about. This can reduce the chances for cross-contamination.

  1. Seeking alternatives

What happens if you are sitting at your table but you just don’t feel comfortable eating any of the food prepared? This can be a tricky and uncomfortable situation (especially if you are at a relative’s house). They may think that you don’t trust them. The way to get around this is through compromise. If you are at a restaurant, and there is an omelette that you want, but you can’t have because there are too many ingredients to keep track of, ask the chef to prepare another omelette with less ingredients or just get a hard-boiled egg (this is the safest option). Make sure that the chef is aware of any cross-contamination issues. They should have a good idea about which ingredients are safe and which are not. Ultimately, it is up to you. Go with your gut intuition. If you don’t feel safe, do NOT feel forced to eat something. If you are at a family member’s house, and you just don’t feel safe eating the food prepared, politely pull whoever is cooking the food aside and explain how you feel. Explain that your allergy is a very serious matter and is potentially lethal. In most cases, your family should understand and accommodate you by preparing something that is completely safe. These cases can be sensitive. But your health and safety trumps everything else. You have the right to feel safe!

Overall, these are some simple tips you can follow.  Following these tips should eliminate some of the stress and uncertainty you may feel during your next brunch outing.

Saverio M.

Staying Safe on Valentine’s Day with Allergies

young couple having fun in the kitchen

Roses are in shops, chocolates are on shelves, and the year’s biggest romantic movies are in theaters. Love is in the air and so is everything else. Having a food allergy can make it hard to navigate through a holiday filled with chocolates and treats. But taking time and explaining your allergens can help ensure a great date.

Staying safe on Valentine’s Day can be tricky at any age. But following a few simple guidelines can help you avoid an allergic reaction and help you spend this special day safely with your significant other.

As always, it is important to make sure that the person you are with knows about all of your food allergies, where they can be found, where your auto-injector is, and how to use it. Making sure that your intended date knows what is safe for you to eat and be around is an important first step to staying safe on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes it can feel like the mystery and romance of the holiday is taken away. But, by talking about your food allergies in advance, you will both be prepared. A good way to ensure that a dinner date goes smoothly is to give or ask for a list of safe places to eat in advance so that you can both be better prepared.

Candy, chocolates, and roses are the quintessential staples for any good Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of safe options for delicious treats available to make your day special. If you’re buying, make sure that you read the labels very carefully, look out for “may contain labels” and, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of resources online and numbers to call and confirm ingredients. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen and you’re making a special treat from scratch, a few measures can be taken to ensure that your snack stays safe. Make sure your cooking area is cleaned and that all of your utensils are disinfected. Never use the same utensils for different foods. Ensure that you know all of the food allergies that the person you are cooking for has. Cross-contamination is just as dangerous as an allergen. So always be aware of what is around you.

Every Valentine’s Day date should be sealed with a kiss. The “will they or won’t they” butterflies in your stomach don’t need any accompaniment from stress butterflies caused by wondering if your significant other has had any contact with your allergen.  The best way to avoid any unwanted stress is to, again, make sure that you communicate your allergens clearly and ensure that your date knows the severity of them. If you’re the one without the allergies, consider a dish or meal that is free of your partner’s allergen to ensure a smooth evening.

Having a food allergy should never stop you from experiencing your ideal Valentine’s Day date. Taking simple precautions to stay safe with your food allergies will ensure a magical date and a night to remember for all of the right good reasons.

Arianne K.

 

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